The day we crossed into South Dakota, I remember telling Ben, “Wouldn’t it be great if the corn stopped with Iowa?”
Ben said something along the lines of, “yes, but I doubt it will.”
We laughed at the absurdity of the question in an attempt to hide our faltering hope that it would.
As soon as we crossed the border, it was not cornfields we saw, but casinos. Lots and lots of casinos, a trend that would continue throughout the state.
After we passed the strip, we came upon a building complex that was painted to look like a spotted cow. Who remembers Gateway?
We took our lunch break at a park in Jefferson and were soon accompanied by two bored teenagers who somehow got on the topic of the president. After overhearing rambling statements of dislike devoid of reason or explanation, the teenagers managed to notice we were there and promptly became enthusiastic about our journey, although swearing they could and would never do such a thing themselves. I’m sure I would have doubted myself too at that age…
Soon after Jefferson, we came face to face with a narrowly coned two-way construction zone on the freeway that professed itself to be 10 miles long. There was no way we were going to make it through without causing even more traffic, getting hit, and/or shitting our pants, so we took the detour that ended up adding 15 miles to our journey (in addition to the 10) through the cornfields. I was not happy.
Eventually, we made our way to Yankton, where we had trouble locating the “free camping behind the visitor center” that we had heard about. We decided to make our camping decision later, and headed off to Ben’s Bar to watch the 5th game of the basketball finals, where we were happy to discover a familiar favorite on tap – Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale. We didn’t know it then, but we had finally crossed back into the land of good beer.
After the Heat won, we scrambled onto our bikes and went off to search for a campsite in the dark.
The next day the scenery started to change. Cornfields, while certainly still around, were scattered between plots of untouched grazing land, some of which supported trees. As the day went on, the cornfields became less, and the land became more. For the first time since we entered Ohio a month prior, I was able to breathe.
I couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful South Dakota was.
We spent that night at a recreation area right on the Missouri River, not to far away from yet another casino.
After fueling up on homemade donuts, we were pleased to find a slight tailwind pushing us along. South Dakota was turning out to be everything Iowa (and Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio) were not.
We pulled into the county park in Winner and listened to young children splash around in the pool while we ate our cold dinner – a collection of fruits, vegetables, and cottage cheese. We set up our tent without the fly in the free camping area and lounged around until the sun went down.
Remember how our tent’s mesh interior is super stealthy when set up on its own? Well, later that night, I woke up to the sound of voices. A group of 3 or 4 people had been walking around the campsite and one of them had spotted our bikes propped up against a barbecue in the dark. The group walked over to our bicycles, reaching out to touch them, when a voice from nowhere said in a firm voice, “Don’t touch our bikes.” Ben and I were lying in our tent no more than 5 feet from where our bicycles stood, completely unnoticed by the wandering group. They immediately turned around and started muttering their surprise. Good thing Ben was awake.
The next day we made our way to White River, the wind still at our backs. We were already riding a short day in order to set ourselves up for the upcoming reservation, and in combination with the wind, we were at our destination by lunchtime. We settled in at another free county park and spent the day reading in the shade, swatting black flies all the while.
Next morning, we rode through the reservation and into the Badlands National Park, again arriving around lunchtime thanks to a slight tailwind.
We pitched our tent in the blazing sun and decided to wait till it cooled down before we hiked around.
After dinner we gathered our things and rode up the hill to the trailhead. Originally hoping for a modest 2 mile hike, we opted for take the shorter walk after noticing some ominous clouds in the distance. We walked for a few minutes, watching as the clouds zoomed closer. We decided to turn around and settle with an overlook, not wanting to risk being caught in the rain. The clouds were now above us, lightning flashing in the distance. We rushed back to our bicycles. People offered to give us a ride back down to our campsite, which was only 1 mile down the hill. We told them we’d be fine. As we raced back, Ben reminded me that our bikes are basically mobile lightning rods. My heart began to race.
Notice the transition in the sky
As we turned a corner to start the descent, a giant blast of wind literally blew Ben and I off our bicycles, the wind whipping sand onto our faces and into our eyes. There was no way we were going to get down the hill in this weather. Somebody honked at us. We scurried up to an overlook, hoping for some kind of shelter. Even cars were pulling off to the side of the road, wary of driving in the wind. A woman beckoned us from her minivan, warning us of the predicted hailstorm and inviting us in to her car. We locked our bikes to a pole and climbed in the car, where we were offered homemade chocolate chip cookies. 3 young girls were squished in the back, the father was driving. They were on a road trip from Syracuse, NY and we never got their names. They drove us down to our campsite but we stayed in their car until the storm died down, watching the lightening arc across the sky. Most of the people in the campsite had taken their tents down. Those who didn’t watched as their tent struggled to keep its shape, most becoming completely horizontal, from the safety of their vehicles. Our tent was holding up beautifully – the benefits of spending some money on a nice tent. I was very proud. As the wind and rain subsided (it never hailed), they drove us back to our bicycles, where we thanked them prodigiously for saving us from what would have been a horrible evening. We hurried back to our campsite, popped a few beers, and watched the rest of the show. The storm had passed over us, but was still occurring in the north and south, almost a 360 view. People slowly came out of the cars and started setting up/fixing their tents. The people next to us, who had set up their brand new tent for the first time that night, were bummed to find their poles bent and broken. Ben helped them rig up a support line, suggesting to use their car as a wind barrier in case it started up again. The lightening continued for a good few hours more, most of them arcing across the sky, never touching the ground. It was the scariest and most magnificent lightening storm I have ever experienced.
We woke up the next morning at 5:30, eager to get ahead of the predicted 100 degrees predicted that day. We pushed our way to Rapid City, arriving just after lunchtime in the sweltering heat. We ducked out in a coffee shop, which was still uncomfortably humid despite the AC. As I was waiting in a bike shop while they worked on my bike, it started raining. It didn’t last long and certainly didn’t do much to help the heat. Soon after, we found out there was a large, unconfined and growing fire not to far from where we were, and unfortunately in the area we were planning on riding through to get to the Black Hills. It was 109 degrees.
With Colorado and the Black Hills on fire, crazy lightening storms and rain appearing from nowhere, and record breaking temperatures across the nation, it seemed like the world was on the verge of exploding. !!!!!!!!
We decided to take a rest day in Rapid City, not so much because we were afraid that the world was going to end, but because we realized that the last time we took a full rest day (we had taken a few short days), was in Chicago.
During our rest day, we had a fancy breakfast, saw some folk art, attempted a 3-D marble maze (we got to level 15/~200), walked through an alleyway covered in graffiti, ate raspberry shakes, and went to see the Chapel in the Hills.
The fire was still blazing away, although under more control than before. We located another route through the Black Hills that was more direct and would still keep us off the major highway.
“Hill” is an understatement. The Black Hills are ridiculously steep. Miniature mountains or sloped cliff might be more accurate. The good thing was, although they were probably an average grade of 9%+, they were generally pretty short climbs. That being said, our first day into the Black Hills caught me off guard.
We pulled into Keystone expecting to find a cutesy little town, perhaps reminiscent of Julian (or at least I was…). Instead, we found a giant tourist town, complete with miniature golf courses, nestled beneath the steep climb to Mt. Rushmore. We took a coffee break at a shop called Grapes and Grinds, specializing in wine and coffee, where the nice ladies working behind the counter let us leave all of our baggage in the back so that we could make the ascent to Mt. Rushmore unburdened. And good thing, the climb to Mt. Rushmore was no joke.
We crested the mountain and slid through the parking pay booths, locking our bikes up by the buses.
I’ll admit, I was expecting the faces to be bigger than they were. Four faces in the distance wasn’t really that impressive.
However, reading about the history and process of chiseling giant men into stone caught my attention. Apparently the original plan was to carve local leaders and heroes, white men and native american’s alike, in an attempt to increase tourism in the Black Hills. Borglum, the sculptor, thought it should have a national focus and chose to carve the faces of four white men completely irrelevant and unknown to the people that lived in the area, a decision that brought up a lot of controversy. Jefferson’s nose started cracking and his face was redone 3 different times in an attempt to avoid the crack. The rock for Roosevelt’s head wasn’t solid enough to work with for many feet, which is why his face is so far behind the others. There was a huge debate about whether or not Lincoln should have a beard. AND (my favorite) there is a Record Room built behind Lincoln’s head with the sole purpose of storing the American and Mt. Rushmore history as a way to explain the 4 anonymous men in the mountain to future generations. It sounded to me like Borglum believed in aliens. Unfortunately, it was never completed, like the rest of the statue.
Ben and I as Presidents.
The ride back to the coffee shop took a fraction of the time it took to get to Mt. Rushmore, and after some not-so-quick wine tasting of horribly sweet wines, which turned out to have no grapes in them anyways (fermented fruits), we headed to Hill City via Old Hill City Rd. From Hill City we hopped onto the Mickelson Trail, a rails to trails pathway that runs all the way through the Black Hills on a much appreciated railroad grade. We stopped for the night on the side of the trail in one of the trail’s provided shelters, which, as we found out the next morning from a nice ranger, we were not allowed to camp at. Whoops!
Next morning we rolled through Deadwood and into Spearfish, forgetting to take the turn that would have taken us through the beautiful Spearfish Canyon instead of on a bustling highway. Oh well. We spent our afternoon tasting beers at Crows Peak Brewing before heading off to spend our last night in South Dakota at the local campground.